Officials discuss Frontier air service

Apr. 11, 2014 @ 11:59 PM

In a county-wide hospitality meeting Thursday, hosted at the Music Road Convention Center by the Pigeon Forge Hospitality Association in conjunction with the Sevier County Hospitality Alliance, representatives from McGee Tyson Airport spoke about the direct, low-fare flight to Chicago from Frontier Airlines that is coming to the airport June 15. 

The Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority is partnering with the state of Tennessee and the cities of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to start a marketing campaign in Chicago starting May 5.

“We think Chicago has got a great opportunity to be a home run,” Vice President of Marketing and Air Service Development Jim Evans said.

The process of convincing Frontier Airlines to come to Knoxville began 10 years ago, said Beth Baker, the airport’s director of marketing.

Evans and Baker described the process of wooing potential low-fare airlines to East Tennessee, and what might be required going forward to bring even more carriers to the airport, such as Southwest Airlines.

The key to bringing a carrier to the airport is money, both Baker and Evans and noted. Representatives from the airport have to prove to air carriers that East Tennessee can be a profitable location.

“Every time we meet with a carrier, they zero in on tourism,” Evans said.

“They look at the numbers and see that most are drive-in. That’s a concern.”

Evans sees the new Chicago flight as a proving ground.

If it can successfully attract a large number of people, he said, then other airlines will see that East Tennessee is a profitable market. It will validate the claims Evans and Baker make to other air carriers.

Evans presented information showing other areas where the airport is targeting potential future flights, including Dallas, Houston, Baltimore and Denver.

Other markets similar to East Tennessee, Evans said, have begun to offer monetary incentives to air carriers. This covers potential start-up and marketing costs, and because of this, Evans said East Tennessee will have to offer a monetary incentive as well, which would come from the community.

“We can’t do it ourselves — the region as a whole has to buy into doing things differently,” Evans said.

“If the Smokies, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Sevierville, are a wonderful vacation for a family from Atlanta, then a family from Phoenix will love it. We just have to tell them about it and make it affordable for them to get here.”

To start, Frontier will offer three flights per week, and each plane will seat 137.

The flight is seasonal, going through the summer up until mid-October.

“We’re trying to convince them to extend it,” Evans said. “It’s going to depend on the success.”

jold@themountainpress.com